Three Takeaways from the 2019 Santa Anita Derby

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 7th, 2019

In a much-anticipated showdown between two of trainer Bob Baffert’s top Kentucky Derby hopefuls, the lightly-raced Roadster got the better of his favored stablemate Game Winner in a thrilling battle to the finish line of the $1 million Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park.

After taking some time to analyze the results and study the replay, here are my three main takeaways from the race:
  1. Roadster Received the Better Trip

For the most part, Game Winner received an ideal, clean trip from jockey Joel Rosario, staying outside of rivals and getting a clear run at the pace-setting Instagrand turning for home. But staying in the clear meant that Game Winner raced wide around both turns, and Rosario later told Santa Anita Publicity that he might have made his move too soon.

In contrast, Mike Smith rode a perfect race on Roadster, saving ground for much of the race and waiting patiently while Game Winner made his premature bid. Roadster actually fell about six or seven lengths off the lead on the far turn, but as the leaders began to slow down, Roadster pounced with an eye-catching burst of acceleration to rally past Game Winner and win by half a length. According to data from Trakus, Game Winner ran 38 feet (about 4 ¾ lengths) farther than Roadster, more than enough to offset Roadster’s winning margin.
  1. The Track Was Slow

The main track at Santa Anita has been deep and slow since racing resumed late in March, so the modest final time for 1 1/8 miles (1:51.28 seconds) and the slow time for the final three furlongs (:40.10) should not be concerning. The capable older males Gift Box and McKinzie required 2:03.02 to win the 1 ¼-mile Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), and even they did not finish particularly fast despite tracking early fractions of :24.24, :49.23, and 1:13.70, significantly slower than in the Santa Anita Derby. Furthermore, the six-time graded stakes-winning filly Bellafina was slowing down significantly at the finish of the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) after pressing a pace similar to that of the Santa Anita Derby.

Need any more proof of how slow the track was playing? Despite the uninspiring final time, Roadster received a Beyer speed figure of 98, the second-highest figure assigned to any Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race so far this year.
  1. The Waters Have Gotten Deep for Instagrand

Instagrand was sensational winning his two starts as a juvenile with complete authority, but he’s found the waters to be deeper since stretching out in distance and jumping in class this season. After battling his way to a third-place finish in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct last month, Instagrand came home third again in the Santa Anita Derby, beaten 2 ¼ lengths by Roadster. He didn’t run badly by any means, leading for the first mile before weakening late, but it appears that running 1 ¼ miles against high-class competition in the Kentucky Derby could be a tough ask for this son of Into Mischief.

Whether Instagrand will even make the gate is another question. With just 30 Kentucky Derby qualification points to his name, Instagrand would need defections in order to run, and the latest news from Ed Golden of Santa Anita Publicity is that Instagrand's connections are considering the one-mile Pat Day Mile (gr. II) on Kentucky Derby Day as a possible alternative target.